Rumors point to Apple moving to ARM processors for future notebooks

Subject: Processors, Mobile | May 6, 2011 - 04:11 PM |
Tagged: project denver, nvidia, macbook, Intel, arm, apple

A very interesting story over at AppleInsider has put the rumor out there that Apple may choose to ditch the Intel/x86 architecture all together with some future upcoming notebooks.  Instead, Apple may choose to go the route of the ARM-based processor, likely similar to the A4 that Apple built for the iPhone and iPad.

What is holding back the move right now?  Well for one, the 64-bit versions of these processors aren't available yet and Apple's software infrastructure is definitely dependent on that.  By the end of 2012 or early in 2013 those ARM-based designs should be ready for the market and very little would stop Apple from making the move.  Again, this is if the rumors are correct.

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Another obstacle is performance - even the best ARM CPUs on the market fall woefully behind the performance of Intel's current crop of Sandy Bridge processors or even their Core 2 Duo options.  

In addition to laptops, the report said that Apple would "presumably" be looking to move its desktop Macs to ARM architecture as well. It characterized the transition to Apple-made chips for its line of computers as a "done deal."

"Now you realize why Apple is desperately searching for fab capacity from Samsung, Global Foundries, and TSMC," the report said. "Intel doesn't know about this particular change of heart yet, which is why they are dropping all the hints about wanting Apple as a foundry customer. Once they realize Apple will be fabbing ARM chips at the expense of x86 parts, they may not be so eager to provide them wafers on advanced processes."

Even though Apple is already specing its own processors like the A4 there is the possibility that they could go with another ARM partner for higher performance designs.  NVIDIA's push into the ARM market with Project Denver could be a potential option as they are working very closely with ARM on those design and performance improvements.  Apple might just "borrow" those changes however at NVIDIA's expense and build its own option that would satisify its needs exactly without the dependence on third-parties.  

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Migrating the notebook (and maybe desktop markets) to ARM processors would allow the company to unify their operating system across the classic "computer" designs and the newer computer models like iPads and iPhones.  The idea of all of our computers turning into oversized iPhones doesn't sound appealing to me (nor I imagine, many of you) but with some changes in the interface it could become a workable option for many consumers. 

With even Microsoft planning for an ARM-based version of Windows, it seems that x86 dominance in the processor market is being threatened without a doubt.  

 

Source: AppleInsider
May 7, 2011 | 12:27 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

I saw this as well but there is simply no way that Apple will switch their desktop Mac Pros to ARM processors. While Intel doesn't compete with ARM as far as low power draw and mobile power efficiency, Intel chips smash ARM into subatomic dust in the performance department, and I have a hard time believing anyone does HD video editing is going to want to go anywhere near a ARM powered desktop! :P

Maybe for mobile, but I'll believe it when I see it.

May 7, 2011 | 05:57 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

At the very earliest we are talking about a late 2012 or 2013 release of these "high performance" ARM processors.

May 7, 2011 | 07:09 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

But by then, us PC users will likely have 2nd iteration Ivy Bridge and mac pros could have some crazy dual Ivy Bridge setup. ;) Would they really give all that oomph up for ARM? I know I wouldn't :D

That said, maybe in the mobile market I could see them putting out a Tegra 3/4 powered Macbook Air with a day of battery life :D

May 7, 2011 | 04:46 AM - Posted by cyow

I bit they make you pay more to get less is that the Apple way.

ARM good but I don't think it work well classic computer designs that we have today.

May 9, 2011 | 10:03 AM - Posted by Steve (not verified)

The Apple TV, with the A4 processor & RAM of the iPhone 4 sells profitably for $100. The new Mac OS X 10.7 Lion will have iOS features. So Apple, for a cost of well under $100 per unit, could add a hybrid iOS/Mac OS X environment to laptops. The iOS side could provide instant-on function and extended battery life for simplier (iOS) functions, while retaining the ability to boot into OS X for the full power offered by the latest Intel offerings of the time. Thus, the rumor of ARM in laptops could only be part of the story.

May 9, 2011 | 04:16 PM - Posted by Mark (not verified)

The problem is everyone is thinking about a one to one chip ratio... yes Intel and ivy Bridge will stomp one ARM chip, however I see them using a dual or quad socket layout. Where 2 or 4 of these dual core, or by then quad core, chips are working together. Four of these little buggers all working together could have some horse power behind them in a couple years, and would give people the performance they want while still providing great power savings.

I don't see these in the desktops, but the MacBook and the Air or even the low end MacBook Pros I can see.

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